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British Industrial History

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Bell Punch Co: 1934 Review

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Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934

Bell Punch Company was formed in 1878 for the express purpose of providing road passenger transport undertakings with a means of revenue collection which would be infallible, elastic, and easy of employment, and the Bell Punch system, originally adopted and still used by the leading road passenger transport organizations, has retained throughout the years its premier position as the standard means for the safe collection of road passenger traffic revenue. That there has been no change is not due to any question of conservatism, but because the Bell Punch system is founded on sound principles allied to those of banking and accountancy, where check and countercheck confirm the results and uphold the system in any eventuality.

Had the system no further claims to acceptance it would have stood on these merits alone, but it also supplied through its very character a means for the collection of data from which the actual working of a traffic organization could be tabulated, thereby providing the essence of good management.

It was a natural development of Bell Punch Company to provide means of safe revenue collection for other enterprises which were faced with the same problems of trading, namely, the decentralization of the collection and payment in small denominations of currency. Its systems of manual issue for this purpose were augmented by the provision of machines which not only acted as a safe store for the unissued tickets, but recorded each individual issue and increased the speed of the service. By the employment of the ever-increasing knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering it has been possible to improve these machines to a pitch of perfection which has placed them in a class of their own.

A further development of the company in recent years is the provision of machines which print tickets on blank paper at the time of issue, obviating the storage and handling of negotiable instruments, and enabling the production of tickets varying in their printed particulars.

This development was of great advantage to rail traffic where speed of issue and variation of the printed particulars were primary necessities, and it proved a step towards the production of systems of totalisator betting where the same qualities were called for. With these innovations the simple ticket had now become a symbol of great potential value calling for a high degree of immunity from fraud or forgery, and this was provided in those issued by the Bell Punch machines.

Thus we see on the mechanical side the development of tickets and ticket issuing machinery by Bell Punch Company to provide systems of cash collection and control, and on the material side we note the growth of this company with the passage of years so that to-day, with its subsidiaries in the four quarters of the globe, it forms the largest organization of ticket and ticket issuing machine manufacturers in the world.

The productions of Bell Punch Company fall into three main categories — tickets, ticket issuing machines for pre-printed tickets, and self-printing ticket issuing machines for the production of tickets printed at the time of issue. In the manufacture of these the company is a self-contained unit, manufacturing from the basic raw materials.

Tickets and their production are by no means the prosaic subject that may be imagined. That no two tickets are alike in every particular, that serial numbering requires every ticket of a series to be in place when parcelled and packed, and that an order for tickets can and does run into hundreds of millions, are sufficient to conjure in the thoughtful mind an organization as skilful in conception as precise in operation. The sight of a modern ticket factory, covering acres of ground, brilliantly illuminated, meticulously free from detritus, with the huge reels of variously coloured pulp proceeding to the machines as ribbons and emerging as packets of tickets, which are marshalled in high piles by white-coated girls who skilfully supplement the work of the machines in producing the completed order, is one not easily forgotten. The writer remembers his gasp of astonishment when first introduced to the Bell Punch Ticket Factory at Uxbridge on the outskirts of London.

Printed tickets are supplied in four styles—cut, reeled, zigzag folded, and in book form. The book and roll forms are gradually going out of use. The cut ticket is the form used in passenger transport for it enables the operator to carry a limited number of many varieties, with stocks for replenishing in handy form. The zigzag folded ticket is used in ticket issuing machines: in this form both ends of a bundle are accessible and the replenishing stock can be joined to the exhausting stock in the machine at any convenient time.

The annual output of tickets by Bell Punch Company runs to astronomic numbers, the daily output being measured in tens of millions. All these tickets must be without flaw in material, thickness, colour, and printed particulars, and must reach their correct destinations in correct delivery order. It was once the writer's experience to place a tiny order for 50,000 tickets with the company, and to receive them promptly with the same regard for his requirements as if his order had been for many millions.

The great proportion of the output of the Bell Punch factories consists of cut tickets for use in the Bell Punch and ticket system, which can claim to be the standard method of fare collection and control for road passenger transport undertakings. Although this system has been in use for over fifty years, it is still as vital as when first orginated, having seen the rise and fall of many systems designed to supplant it. The explanation is that the Bell Punch system alone correctly upholds the principles of fair dealing, of protection to the diverse interests of operator, employee and customer, and it gives a measure of security to each that is unobtainable in any other way. By the arrangement of interlocking checks the quantity of issue is never in doubt, and the system protects even the conductor against accidental mistakes.

Beyond this the system has a feature of inestimable value, for by the entry of the serial numbers of each issue by the conductors on journey sheets called waybills, the control office receives a record of the traffic on each vehicle, hour by hour, day by day, which enables it to use its fleet to the most profitable advantage. But undoubtedly a feature of great importance is the simplicity of the Bell Punch and ticket system. Its only mechanical feature is the recording alarm punch, an ingenious mechanism which records the issue of each ticket, and retains a clipping of the ticket in an inaccessible container. This punch stands up to years of hard work and even maltreatment, and it can be relied on under all adverse conditions, for it is proof against tampering. The records of issues are substantiated by the quantities of the issues as deducted from the serial numbers of the tickets, and as shown by the entries on the waybills. Should there be any divergence in these records, the matter is finally settled by the clippings which are irrefutable evidence of each punching operation.

It is indubitable that mechanical ticket issuers which can give only one proof of the issue—that is, the readings of mechanical recorders—can never provide the measure of security which is necessary for complete trust.

A noticeable feature of the Bell Punch and ticket system is the provision of differently coloured tickets for each fare value. This has a double significance. It enables the act of issue to be performed with the utmost rapidity on the part of the conductor, and it also ensures the correctness of the issue, for the passenger can tell at a glance if he has received the correct denomination of ticket called for by his fare. By this means the public themselves assist in the upholding of the system for the true collection of the operating company's revenue.

In the Bell Punch system a traffic route is divided into stages which are marked on the tickets. The system made possible the introduction of the graduated fare whereby the passenger, whatever the length of his journey, pays a proportionate price for the amount of transportation provided. The adoption of this principle, and security in revenue collection, explains the phenomenal growth, the remarkable prosperity and consequent expansion of road passenger transportation in Great Britain, which is the most prosperous in the world.

The question of portable ticket issuing mechanism has not been overlooked by Bell Punch Company, whose researches in this direction tend to show that it is not in the direction of a self-printing machine that real progress can be made. To accommodate a mechanical recorder of each denomination of ticket is impossible, unless the numbers of denominations be strictly limited, and without such the machine would be useless. Dependence on such a machine, giving only one check of the issue, presupposes its infallibility, and what mechanism has this quality ? Bell Punch Company, for this and other cogent reasons, has worked along other lines, and has produced the portable automaticket machine, a ticket issuer of the autographic type whose tickets are franked at issue by the conductor, the machine retaining a duplicate of the ticket. This machine is very speedy, simple to operate and maintain, and not liable to derangement from wilful or accidental causes. Its application is very wide both in traffic and retail trading enterprises.

The mechanical ticket issuer was the outcome of the demand for rapid ticket issue in places of entertainment, in order that tickets could be used in place of metal checks. The metal check had held sway for very many years as the passport, but its liability to counterfeiting and its limitations in variability rendered it unsatisfactory for its purpose. Collusion between doorkeepers and patrons in the retention of checks by the latter was always liable to be a source of loss, and when adequate means of rapid and safe ticket issue were evolved they were immediately accepted.

The earliest forms of mechanical ticket issuers first came into use in the United States of America, where labour-saving devices have always received their due appreciation. These forms were foot-pedal operated, and were closely followed by electrically propelled machines, which were expensive, and by hand-operated machines for tickets in roll form as a cheap substitute. Great Britain was not slow to see the advantages of such machines, and in their provision for the home and export markets Bell Punch Company and its subsidiaries again took the lead.

The mechanical ticket issuer solved the problems of misappropriation, misuse and loss of ticket stocks associated with loose tickets in roll and book form, for the tickets were now in a locked cabinet, and the issue was doubly checked by the serial numbering of the tickets and the records of the issue given by the mechanical recorders integral with the machines. Although the electrically propelled Model "K" marketed by this company was more expensive than competitive machines, it secured practically universal adoption owing to its reliability and efficiency.

To-day Bell Punch Company produces a comprehensive range of mechanical aids for the issue of pre-printed tickets - electrically operated, hand operated and coin operated—and there is no enterprise for which the company is not able to offer a model that is entirely appropriate for its special requirements.

The style of ticket standardized for these machines is the zigzag folded, for this method of folding neatly provides for the replenishment of stocks with continuity in serial numbering. The noticeable feature of the Bell Punch Company's machines is the rapidity of ticket issue. In the Model "K" electrically driven, and Model "H," hand-lever operated, five tickets are issuable at one operation, as fast as one ticket, delivery being almost instantaneous.

The next development in ticket issuing machines saw the introduction of coin- operated machines for use without an attendant, and the production of self-printing ticket issuing machines, which were called for by railway enterprises where the cost and handling of ticket stocks were matters of concern. The Printix machine of Bell Punch Company was a milestone in the progressive march of the reduction of operative costs, for one machine occupying only 24 inches by 10 inches of counter space could produce all the necessary tickets for a railway system with 18 fare variations. Machines can be ganged together, their top-plates forming an ideal surface for the I exchange of tickets and cash. The tickets are instantaneously delivered, legibly printed on railway ticket card, or thinner material if preferred, serially numbered and dated, and a record of each issue is taken by the machine on its recorders. A recent development in self-printing ticket issuing machines for railways is the S.P. machine which gives not only a dated ticket but also one on which the actual time of issue is stated. This feature is valuable in cloakroom tickets. An important feature of this machine is the variability in the size of the ticket, from 1 inch in length to 5 inches.

The next important step in the development of ticket issuing machines was the Bell Punch totalisator ticket issuing machine, with its controlling and recording mechanisms. This machine was designed and built to print and rapidly deliver a preconceived totalisator ticket, the layout of which was settled before the construction of the machine was commenced. This ticket had to conform to the definite fundamentals of a betting ticket, among which were the highest possible measure of immunity from forgery, and variation of the printed particulars at will. The machine itself had to withstand severe service conditions, including constant transportation from racecourse to racecourse, and to be entirely proof against fraudulent misuse. To such effect did the company's product fulfil these conditions that its totalisator ticket issuing machines were standardized by the Racecourse Betting Control Board of Great Britain for sole use on the racecourses under its jurisdiction. We see to-day this machine replacing those of its competitors already installed in other parts of the world. The rate of ticket issue of these machines is 100 per minute, and the machines cater for all forms of totalisator betting, and can accommodate from one up to eighty runners.

From this machine was developed the totalising ticket issuing machine, a self- contained totalisator, which is usable without an expensive issue recording mechanism, and can be stationary or in a mobile totalisator unit; also the "Municipal" ticket issuing machine for the production of a large range of tickets as used in public baths. This machine will produce 100 different tickets, each dated and printed with the session of issue, and the style of the ticket is variable at will.

Other machines of Bell Punch Company and its subsidiaries include those of a cash register type where the ticket is issued with the price of the purchase indicated, the machine increasing its cash register and ticket register totals at each issue.

It can be said that the field for tickets and ticket issuing machines is ever-spreading, and in consequence, with fresh problems constantly arriving for solution, the Bell Punch organization is a lively and virile force to-day.

Throughout the world the means of cash collection and control are receiving greater consideration: elementary methods are being superseded by systems which not only take the hazard out of this important branch of the conduct of affairs, but also reduce the cost of cash collection and audit.

As consultant and manufacturer of systems and mechanisms for the collection and control of revenue Bell Punch Company holds an enviable position to-day. This is not without cause.


1. TICKETS, in all known forms, and for every purpose.

2. THE BELL PUNCH AND TICKET SYSTEM, the standard means of collection and control of Road Passenger Transport Revenue.

3. TICKET ISSUING MACHINES FOR PRE-PRINTED TICKETS, their issue, control and audit,


MODEL "H," a hand-operated machine for Entertainment Esta blishments. Instantaneous issue of single or multiple deliveries. Available in six sizes.

MODEL "K," electrically operated. The standard equipment of Cinemas and Theatres. Available in six sizes for one to six denominations of ticket. Instantaneous single and multiple issues.

MODEL "C," the perfect transportable ticket cabinet and issuer. Ideal where sales are intermittent, as at Travelling Shows, Sports Grounds, etc.

THE "Auroslot," coin-operated, for use without an attendant. Fraud and burglary proof, ideal for Canteens and as a "Relief Cashier."

THE "CLOAKROOM" MACHINE, for storage and issue of duplicated cloak-room tickets.

THE "PUBLICITY" MACHINE, for announcements in card or booklet form. Checks the issues. Its upper part features advertisements on luminous panels.

THE "SODA-CHECK REGISTER", a combined ticket issuer and cash register. Records all issues.

4. PORTABLE TICKET ISSUING MACHINES, notably the "AUTOMATICKET" machine, a speedy issuer of pre-printed, serially numbered tickets, franked at issue in the appropriate section. It retains a duplicate of each issue. Simple and secure, it is ideal for long-distance Road Passenger Transport, Municipalities and General Trading Enterprises.

5. SELF-PRINTING TICKET ISSUING MACHINES, for production, issue and audit of variable tickets, and to obviate the carrying and distribution of ticket stocks, viz.:

THE "PRINTIX" MACHINE, as used in London, New York, Paris, Tokio, etc. Of special value to Railways, delivering a dated, serially numbered ticket. Printing is by rotary press, legible in the smallest type. Printing blocks quickly changeable. Very compact, each unit caters for 6 variations. The mechanism is electrically propelled on depression of one key.

THE "S.P." MACHINE, analogous to the "Printix," but the tickets are variable in length and give time of issue as well as the date. In seven sizes, for one to seven different tickets.

THE "MUNICIPAL" T.I.M. a multiple price ticket issuer. Gives 100 different tickets with date, period of issue, value and class facility. Each denomination is separately audited.

THE TOTALISATOR TICKET ISSUING MACHINE, available in several types to cater for every form of totalisator betting. The standard equipment of the Racecourse Betting Control Board of Great Britain. Suitable for large and small installations with or without a Public Indicator.

THE "RESTAURANT CHECK MACHINE", an automatic self-printing ticket issuer.

6. MISCELLANEOUS PRODUCTS, not in the category of Ticket Issuing Machines, viz.: ANALYSERS, ADDING MACHINES, CALCULATORS, electrically operated, for production of records and statistics.

COINOMETER, for express change giving without calculation.

INTERSETTORS, for incorporating pre-printed insets into the products of standard Rotary Printing Presses, automatically, with correct registration, at the full speed of the Press.

POSTAGE STAMP MACHINES, for coin-operated delivery of multiple issues, in one or several denominations of stamp, payment for which can be made by single or several coins.

TAXIMETERS, of highest accuracy and embodying special features.

TOTALISATOR EQUIPMENT, stationary and mobile, for complete installations.

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